In the land-locked South American country of Paraguay, the temperature averages 75 degrees, and snow — even a flurry — is rare.
But in February, in Sochi — a Russian resort city along the Black Sea — Julia Marino of Winchester will be the sole representative of the first Olympic team from Paraguay to tackle the Winter Games.
A native of Paraguay who was adopted and brought to the United States as an infant, Marino, 21, will compete in slopestyle skiing, which also will be making its Olympic debut.
"The Olympics [is] about representing where you're from," said Marino, a graduate of The Holderness School in Plymouth, N.H., and now a junior at the University of Colorado. "It's making history for Paraguay."
Slopestyle skiing consists of a downhill course with obstacles including jumps and rails (akin to skateboarding) that skiers use to perform tricks. The average run is a minute to just under a minute and a half, Marino said, and skiers are judged on their overall impression, such as air amplitude and creativity.
Because courses always vary, "Every event allows you to do something new and be creative," she said.
She tried it for the first time at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, N.H., and began "taking it seriously" at age 11.
"It just really caught my attention," she said. "I like the adrenaline rush. There's nothing like flying through the air, doing tricks. It's a very athletic sport, very demanding."
She quickly progressed to regional and national events, competing in her first US junior nationals at age 12.
The idea of carrying the flag of Paraguay during the Opening Ceremonies came about as she began to contemplate what the monumental opportunity meant to her. Getting approval was a lengthy and intensive process: Because the country doesn't have an active ski team, it had to apply for special status through the International Ski Federation.
"It took a tremendous amount of effort," said Marino. "Hopefully it will open the world of snow sports to Paraguay."
And her home country has been nothing but welcoming. She visited for the first time since her infancy in November, spending time in the capital, Asuncion, to meet with officials and attend press conferences and interviews. She also visited nearby San Bernardino, taking in the country's culture, history, and learning a bit of its two languages, Spanish and Guarani. She also spent time with her godmother, Magdalena, whom her parents met in the process of adopting her.
"It was a crazy, overwhelming experience, full of so many emotions," she said. "It's a trip I'll never forget. I can't wait to spend more time there."
Next up are three World Cups, then training in Torino, Italy, and then the Olympics in Russia. During ski season, an average day will consist of four or five hours on the mountain, Marino said, as well as video review sessions and long periods jumping on a trampoline to get the feel for unnatural spins.
Leading up to the Olympics, she's worked "steadily and hard" with Erik Kaloyanides of Athletic Evolution in Woburn.
As he explained, because there are so many injuries in her sport – Marino herself has torn an anterior cruciate ligament and broken her collarbone – their focus has been on developing her lower body, particularly strengthening her knees, and building up core strength to help with balance. Endurance – both physical and mental – also is key to the process, he said.
The two have built such a strong bond that he'll be accompanying her to Russia.
"Julia is an unbelievable athlete," said Kaloyanides. "She's a great skier, but if she didn't have the determination and drive, she definitely wouldn't be here."